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Megatrends: building better futures for regions, cities and rural areas

Place-based policies play a critical role in helping national governments deliver high quality of life and well-being to people across the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental).

World Built Environment Forum
3 May 2019

Over the past 20 years, the OECD Regional Development Policy Committee (RDPC) and its Working Parties on Urban Policy (WPURB) and Rural Policy (WPRUR) have developed solid data, evidence, recommendations and a pool of good practices regarding:

  • How a wide range of sectoral policies impact different 'places' differently, stressing that all policies have spatial consequences
  • The importance of considering functional geographies – recognising that urban and rural areas are interconnected through different types of linkages that often cross traditional administrative boundaries are based on where people work and live, are not limited to city-centred local labour market flows but rather include bi-directional relationships
  • How to design, implement and monitor better local and regional policies for place-based, sustainable and inclusive development

The specific needs and capacities of urban and rural places

In many OECD countries, urban policies tended to be framed as social policies targeting the problems of deprived urban neighbourhoods. They are moving towards a broader objective of building competitive, sustainable and inclusive cities, and thus involve a range of sectoral policies (housing, transport, land use, water etc.) that need to be integrated within a national urban policy.

Across the OECD, rural policies continue to be framed in most countries around agriculture – in terms of lead ministry and the content of many policy instruments. However, countries are moving towards a broader approach to take advantage of opportunities beyond agriculture. This includes tradable activities and adding value to rural assets such as forestry, mining, agriculture, fisheries, culture and tourism. Rural-urban linkages – i.e., flows of goods, people, information, finance, waste, information, social relations across space, linking rural and urban areas – reinforce rural economic diversification.

There is also a wide diversity of assets and challenges within urban areas and within rural areas, hence the need for a place-based approach and policy frameworks that can adapt to the local reality.


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Key principles on urban policy

Both urban and rural areas are facing an increasingly complex policy environment. Global megatrends – ranging from globalisation and the next production revolution to demographic and environmental changes – are profoundly transforming economies and societies across OECD Members and Partners, calling for rapid adjustment in policy responses.

But global megatrends will affect urban and rural areas in fundamentally different ways. Urban and rural areas have different capacities to exploit the new opportunities that stem from such megatrends while mitigating their downsides. When it comes specifically to urban areas the OECD has developed some key guiding principles:

Principle 1

Maximise the potential of cities of all sizes to advance national and global prosperity and well-being over time.

Principle 2

Adapt policy action to the place where people live and work.

Principle 3

Support interdependencies and co-operation between urban and rural areas.

Principle 4

Set a clear vision for national urban policy that is fit for the future.

Principle 5

Leverage the potential of cities of all sizes for advancing environmental quality and the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Principle 6

Promote inclusive cities that provide opportunities for all, by improving access for all urban residents and users – regardless of their gender, age, ethnic background or health status – to drivers of social inclusion, such as local public services, affordable quality housing, transport, education, health, employment and economic opportunities, cultural heritage and amenities, leisure and safe public spaces.

Principle 7

Foster a national and multi-level urban policy approach that sets incentives to align and integrate sectoral policies to jointly promote development and well-being in cities.

Principle 8

Harness adequate funding for effective implementation of responsibilities for urban policy at all levels of government.

Principle 9

Promote stakeholder engagement in the design and implementation of urban policy.

Principle 10

Strengthen the capacity of actors in cities to innovate and fulfil their duties effectively, efficiently.

Principle 11

Foster monitoring, evaluation and accountability of urban governance and policy outcomes.